Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fifty Little Gingriches

They say the job of every Republican president is to make his predecessor look good.  Bruce Bartlett gives reasons to suspect we soon may be thinking the same thing about a different office:
[T] he House Republican leader in 1994, Newt Gingrich, had vastly more power over his caucus than his counterpart today, John Boehner, is likely to have. The reason is that every Republican owed Gingrich  very heavily for achieving majority status, something many probably never expected to live to see. Therefore, as Speaker, he could get away with doing things and impose discipline in a way that Boehner cannot hope to duplicate. The Republican caucus that will take office in January will be vastly more independent and less willing to blindly follow orders than the one that took office in 1995.
Gingrich was able to command the support of rank–and-file Republicans because of his brilliant strategy that gave them control.  ...

Among the things Newt was able to do once he took control was effectively neuter the committees. The committee chairmen's roles were diminished, their staffs were slashed, and virtually all power in terms of policy and legislative initiatives was centralized in the speaker’s office. The only committee Newt had any use for was the Rules Committee, which would often rewrite legislation in the dead of night and bring it up for a vote the next day. Consequently, members from both sides of the aisle had no idea exactly what they were voting on, which made it easier to hide earmarks and other special interest provisions from scrutiny.

There’s no way Boehner can hope to get away with that sort of thing. It’s clear that the Republicans in line to be committee chairmen are not prepared to be potted plants. They are going to reinvigorate the traditional committee system and make it once again the pipeline through which legislation flows. And if nothing else, the many Tea Party members expected to be elected will want to see more legislative transparency and strongly resist the sort of heavy-handed methods that were used to ram legislation through during the Gingrich era.

Yes, yes, many will be glad that Boehner can't "get away with doing things" the way Gingrich did.  But the spectacle of a whole circus of little Gingriches, each wih his (or her) own ring, is not a sight that bears thinking on.  I remember my friend Larry on the day the Soviet Empire fell: "someday," said Larry, "we'll miss Leonid Brezhnev."

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